Small Revelations

In the Zen tradition, "kensho" means a little flash of enlightenment - a revelation - as opposed to "nirvana" which is a more permanent transformation of consciousness. If we are wakeful - our lives can be filled with small revelations, kensho moments.

This brief article from Alexandra Harris at The School of Life examines "forms of sanctity which have nothing to do with divine transfiguration." Lovely.


‘The great revelation had never come. The great revelation perhaps never did come. Instead there were little daily miracles, illuminations, matches struck unexpectedly in the dark’.

These lines from Virginia Woolf’s 1927 novel To the Lighthouse startle and move me every time I read them. Somehow they never settle down and become familiar; the meaning flares up slightly differently on every reading, like the suddenly-struck matches to which Woolf refers.

Partly out of curiosity, wanting to see what other people made of it, I used this quotation as one of the assessed essay questions on the ‘Modernism’ module I run at the University of Liverpool. The students had to choose one from a list of ten questions, and I was amazed by how many chose this one. I’m sure most of the others were easier. Cities, bodies, fragments: exciting modernist topics, yes, but not necessarily prompting a head-on interrogation of the meaning of life. Whereas this issue of revelations, this seems to me one of the ultimate questions, and the students responded to it with probing intensity.